A village covered in volcanic ash after the Semeru volcano erupted and killed at least 14 people. Photo: JUNI KRISWANTO / AFP
Huge plumes of rising grey smoke and ash fill the blackened sky as a terrified woman runs screaming for cover indoors—this is just one disturbing scene posted by a TikTok user who lived through a major volcanic eruption on the island of Java in Indonesia this weekend.
The video, which has amassed more than five million likes on TikTok since it was posted in the aftermath of Saturday’s eruption, was just one of a series taken by users on the ground, documenting the horror of living through a natural disaster of that scale. Other dramatic footage posted on the platform showed scenes of a rainstorm of volcanic ash pouring down on stranded motorists along a highway, blanketing everything in thick gray soot; cascading rivers of steaming hot mud; an ash-covered motorcyclist pleading for help; and a village boxed in by vast walls of looming smoke. “Locals here thought it was just usual floods. We did not know it was hot mud. All of a sudden, the sky turned dark as rain and hot smoke came. Thankfully, it was raining so we could breathe,” one witness told AFP.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation and the fourth most populous nation in the world, sits on the Ring of Fire—an area with some of the world’s most active volcanoes. The Southeast Asian country was host to the most powerful volcanic event recorded in human history, the 1815 Tambora eruption. Semeru is the highest mountain in East Java and is one of the country’s most popular hiking destinations. A highly active volcano, it has recorded 55 eruptions since 1818, 11 of which have resulted in fatalities. Search and rescue teams on the ground are reporting a rising death toll from this latest eruption, with at least 14 people killed and dozens of others injured as of publishing. Semeru also erupted in January, but caused no casualties. Some 1,300 people have been evacuated from the area so far, according to rescue teams, with the risk of pyroclastic flows—a substance more dangerous than lava, made of a mix of ash, rock and volcanic gases—remaining high. However, volunteers say that rescue efforts have been hampered by suffocating smoke, a power blackout, and rainstorms that Indonesian meteorologists say are expected to continue over the coming days. It has been a grueling year for Indonesia after a series of deadly natural disasters, including widespread floods and landslides that displaced tens of thousands in the central areas of South Kalimantan and Borneo island, and a deadly earthquake that killed dozens on the island of Sulawesi in January. Follow Heather Chen on Twitter.